There are multitudes of drinks to choose from when football returns. Darker beers and hot ciders make for tasty additions in cooler weather. I’ve ignored the vineyards too long in these columns, so I’ll be uncorking an old favorite in syrah.
Syrah—or shiraz in New World nomenclature—is a wonderful grape for the fall diet. Not to be confused with petite sirah—a hybrid of syrah and a lesser known grape called peloursin—syrah is a beautiful wine on its own or paired with slightly heavier meals for the winter.
Interestingly, shiraz is actually the older name for the wine even if it is used in the very young nation of Australia. Shiraz was the name of a Persian city famous for its shirazi wine. The grape eventually spread to the Rhone where the French perfected its use. When it evolved to Australia, they brought back its old-style name.
Syrah also is one of the primary grapes used in Chateauneuf du Pape. Although more than a dozen such grapes are permitted for use under French law, most are for blending. Syrah and Grenache do most of the heavy lifting. For those unfamiliar, Chateauneuf du Pape, or “new house of the Pope,” was a special blended wine meant to celebrate the Avignon papacy in 1308. Though that period in Catholic history only lasted 70 years, and those secondary Popes were excommunicated, the wine thankfully lives on.
Typically, syrah is full bodied but light on tannin, which gives it a robust flavor without any harshness that some might find off-putting. It is known for smoothness, commonly with flavors of jam or licorice. Drinkers should expect earthy and even leather notes in better syrahs from the Rhone Valley.
While syrah is grown all over the world, including Washington and Chile, the two major competing styles hail from France in the Rhone Valley and Australia in McLaren Vale. Rhone wines tend toward subtlety and earthiness while their Aussie counterparts are better known for rich, jammy fruit.
For my part, I’m of two minds on two styles. When having cocktails, or just drinking wine for the sake of drinking wine, I prefer the bolder, fruitier Australian style. But French Rhone, when paired properly, is one of my all-time favorite dinnertime selections. Each has an important place on my wine rack.
Along those lines, I suggest looking for something from Guigal Vineyards. They offer a nice variety of wines to suit a number of budgets (from $15 to $500), but they’re notable for subtlety. Generally, all pair well with roasted meats or vegetables. Guigal is an excellent wine to serve alongside a favorite autumn meal.
On the Aussie side, I have a few go-to wines, but my personal relationship with DogRidge and its winemaker Fred Howard always puts it at the top of my list. Wine is and should be like that. As a colleague said to me years ago, “If you ask anyone what his favorite wine is, he’ll always have a story.” I have a few stories about drinking with Fred Howard. Anyone lucky enough to be invited to my 50th birthday party in 2025 will get to share in the autographed bottle of his 2003 MVP Shiraz I’ve been sitting on for most of a decade already.
His wines are emblematic of the jammy Australian-style shiraz. They can be a little tougher to pair with food for that reason, but they are wonderful on their own. The spicy blackberry notes make it a great session wine.
There are many fine things to drink in these cooler months. And I intend to drink most of them. But I will be having more shiraz than I have in the past. Because that’s always a good idea.